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Jeff Wright. Photo by Colette Laplante.

Jeff Wright on storytelling, courting in the wilderness

By Brian Carroll on April 12, 2016

Local storyteller Jeff Wright is performing his new show How to Make Love in a Canoe 2 at the NAC’s Fourth Stage on April 21st. Brian Carroll interviewed Wright about this production and his storytelling background.

The following interview has been edited for length.

Apt613: The title? How to Make Love in a Canoe 2? Immediately I think: “I know what this show’s about.” Why should I bother seeing it?

Wright: It’s not what you think it is. It’s not a tutorial.

How to Make Love in a Canoe 2 picks up the story with me courting my wife. I met this wonderful woman named Jennifer. I thought, “I will duly impress her. I will take her on a canoe trip. I will impress her with how masterful, manly and outdoorsy I am.”

Needless to say everything went wrong. In my micro-management of the trip, I did everything but remember to pack the food. We ended up eight hours north, at the water’s edge, without a stitch to eat. That was how my courtship of the young lady began.

Your first show sold out. Who’s your audience?

I’m really hitting three crowds.

The first crew that comes along to these shows are actually outdoor enthusiasts. People who possibly have attempted to make love in a canoe. Or at least know that the thwart in the middle is an aptly named piece of hardware, if you’re attempting to make love in a canoe. They’re coming because they’re grabbing onto, “Oh, I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to get into an argument with somebody on a portage trail.” And how mosquitoes exacerbate arguments and that sort of thing.

The other group that’s coming out… Some wise person who’s seen the stories said, “Jeff, these aren’t really canoe trip stories. They’re relationship stories set in a wilderness canoe tripping setting. Essentially that story you tell about you and your wife working out marital difficulties on a paddling trip and using the five-step guide … I’m sure half the people in this room who’ve been married for ten years have gone through (that).” So the second group that likes these stories is anybody who’s actually been in a relationship.

Then the weirdest group: My two sons and their friends are all in the 20- to 30-year-old set. That particular demographic is showing up because they haven’t seen this done before as an art form. They’re finding this fun because they’re not finding it anywhere else in their live world. They’re going to the stories and going, “These are cool. These are fun.” I’m finding that group’s actually showing up.

They say this weird thing, “OH! This is like Stuart McLean, that Vinyl Cafe that my parents listen to.” That’s their only touchstone. So I gratefully grab on and say, “Yes, but instead of Dave and Morley, it’s Jeff and Jennifer, and it’s first person. And it’s a little more blue than Stuart would ever do.”

How to Make Love in a Canoe 2? Why a sequel? Are there really that many ways to…

As a matter of fact, there are.

Just a few pro tips, there. Becky Mason, the great paddling genius of Canada, will tell you that the cedar strip canoe is Canada’s greatest craft. But NOT if you want to make love in a canoe. It’ll wreak your knees. I’ve been putting these stories together for years. On those extended trips I’ve done my best to do the empirical research. The cedar strip canoe is not a good canoe to make love in. The other craft which I would avoid is, not only for aesthetic reasons that it’s terrible, that other craft – avoid anything aluminum. The Grumman is a horrifying craft. Two problems with an aluminum canoe and coitus:

Problem #1, the thing acts like an echo chamber. The first story I’m telling on April 21st is a flashback story to my first experience with making love in a canoe, which is when I’m in Grade 9 on a school trip. There’s 16 of us boys and girls, (on) a co-ed outdoor ed trip, and our two counsellors. Every night after the 10 o’clock curfew, the counsellors separated the boys and girls quite meticulously. Put the fear of God into us. “You’re in your tents for the night.” But about 11 o’clock every night, when the wind was just right, you could actually pick up little whisperings, fumblings and endearments coming from the overturned canoes down by the shore. The purpose of the entire trip, for those of us who were listening, became to figure out which of us were making love under a canoe.

The other thing too is – the aluminum peels off on your knees, which is ugly.

Why a second show? At How to Make Love in a Canoe a couple of years ago at the NAC, there were all these stories I couldn’t tell yet. There just simply wasn’t time in the evening.

I’ve seen you tell stories. You’re not the stereotypical park-and-bark storyteller. Why the high energy on stage?

I perform with a wireless headset mic. The real reason why is that my professional career background is as a high school teacher. Every high school teacher in the world develops their emergency go-to way of getting an unruly class under control on a Friday afternoon, when we haven’t quite got a very good lesson put together yet. My go-to was always telling a story.

I learned to move around the stage as a way of interacting. I perform in auditoriums. The thing I do that (some) traditional storytellers don’t do is …I engage the audience. This essentially worked as a means of keeping students engaged.

Thank you, Jeff.

Listen to an excerpt from How to Make Love in a Canoe 2 below:

How to Make Love in a Canoe 2 is playing at the NAC Fourth Stage on April 21, 2016.  Doors open at 7PM. Tickets are $22 for adults, $18 for students and seniors at the NAC box office. Tickets are $22 + handling fee at Ticketmaster. Click here for more details.

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